tv Tavis Smiley PBS May 29, 2012 12:00am-12:30am PDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with a four-time olympic medalist, janet evans. at just 15 years of age, she said the sports world on fire by establishing herself as one of the greatest long-distance swimmers. there were the 1988 summer games. now, age 40, the mother of two young children, and she is staging a comeback and will be swimming at the olympic trials, trying to earn a spot on the olympic squad that will be competing in london this summer. we are pleased you could join us for our conversation with olympic great janet evans, right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. know. -- is the cornerstone we all know.
it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like thank you. tavis: at the age of 15, janet evans became an international swimming sensation, setting a series of gold records, winning three at the 1988 summer games, and after more medals in 1992, she announced her retirement at the 1996 olympics, but not before giving and memorable image, one that i will never forget, passing that torch to the champ, muhammad ali, during the ceremonies. we all remember that. last year, she turned 40, and
like so many of us, she spent a lot of time thinking about that milestone, but unlike many of us, she has decided to do the unthinkable, trying to get back on the team that will compete this summer in london. and did i mention that she is the mother of two babies nonetheless. janet evans, glad to have you on the program. >> glad to be year. tavis: an imposter. curry's seen so many pictures, and we expect to see a 15-year- old with a swimming cap on, but you are a grown woman. >> i can be very anonymous until i go into a swimming pool. normal life outside of athletics. >> before we talk about doing what you are doing at 40, we were talking about the difficulty, and i was reading about the difficulty that you had turning 40.
i had difficulty, as well. some people go right through it, but it was really, really rough for me, and i do not get caught up on age, but for me, it was really about my life, whether i was going in the right direction. i was fortunate and 39 that i had done a lot of stuff already in television and have written books and had bestsellers, but i was still wondering if i was in the space i needed to be in. >> i have talked to a lot of people about it, and they say, "i did not have issues with 40. i had issues with 30." i do not know, but when i turned 30, i had retired from swimming at 24, and 30 was just the beginning. i had my children. i got married. i saw the world. when i got into my 40's, right now, again, so i had done all of those great things that i thought i wanted to do in my
30's, got married and had kids, and aside from staying home and raising my children, what do i do to make me feel more field as well, so i think going into the age of 40, around 38 was the time that i decided that i would get back into the swimming pool, literally and fitted tivoli, -- literally and figuratively, and so like you, around 30 a, 39, i had an urge to do a little bit more, and i like being busy. i like doing things. it was kind of appropriate for me to swim again. tavis: do you think that this return as a thing to do with restlessness? >> no, i do not think it is restlessness. i think any mother would tell you that we put everything on the back burner for our babies, our children. i would be there in the middle of the night with my children, rocking them, and being an olympic swimmer looks like a piece of cake.
it is part of edsall, -- a part of my soul, and at the end of the day, i want to put my head on the pillow to say that i have done something for myself at the same time, not discourage being a good mom and a good wife, but to do something to make me feel good. >> but there are a lot of things i can imagine that would make you feel good that are a whole lot less. >> i know. tavis: being an olympic champion, an olympic swimmer, period, not less a champion, but i was looking at your planning schedule of what time you get up, and you can tell the story. what time do you get up? >> i get up at 4:20, and i drive to the pool, and i swim, and then i go to the weight room, so i am in the pool for two hours, and then i go to the weight room, and then i come home and take care of my babies and get my 5-year-old off to school, and
then in the evening, i go back to the pool, and then there are different days, when my husband is home. these are very different things. tavis: there is a whole list of things i could have given you that you could have done. >> yes, volunteer. >> pta. you could volunteer. >> i know. >> -- tavis: the library. one of the reasons you said you would try this is because that the times and swimming have not change review still hold some records. the times have not, with your 15 years of retirement, you can still -- you can do this. >> yes, well, mike record was beaten, so it stood until 2008, and one of the catalysts into doing this, and i was having all of these emotions and feelings about wanting to do it, but i received a phone call from my
coach in 2010. they had just had the nationals, and i think that the winning time was 8 minutes, 26 seconds, and mine was less than that, so not to say that i can jump back in the pool tomorrow and to 8 minutes 16 seconds, maybe i can, and i am certainly working and getting into the 8 minute 27 range, and i am getting there, but if these rules were swimming eight minutes, 5 seconds, if i would not even try, because it would be futile, but it is interesting. in this sort of swimming, all of the times have gotten faster, except these times. it is very interesting that these girls have been swimming at the same times that we were swimming in the 1980's. tavis: what do you make of that? >> women is a hard sport.
my daughter is five and 1/2. i asked her if she wanted to join the swim team, and she asked me how many days it would be, and i said five, and she said no. it is a hard sport, and then to add the distance. eight minutes. 16 laps of an olympic size pool in one race, and that takes a lot more training than someone who swims maybe one or two laps, and i am not sure what all the distractions that kids have that they want to put in all of the work. tavis: i do not think they train the same way now that they did 15 years ago. >> my timing is similar actually. it is all about getting the lapse in and getting the insurance and, and for me, having taken so many days off, i am back to my fighting white. i was a little heavier at the end of my career. i am fitter. i am stronger. we do a lot of work in the weight room. but for a distance swimmer, it
is the endurance. you have to get to that fitness level. i am incredibly fit right now, but i have a way to go to get to that fitness level that i really need. tavis: what determines success for you this time around? is it making the team? is it sending a certain time what does success look like this time around? >> my first is to make the trials. and they are at the end of june and omaha, to me, that is success. the rest of this is the cherry on the top. obviously would like to make the olympic team and make myself proud, and i think it is just what i am capable of when i get to the meat and feeling what i feel in the water and seeing what happens, and some people are saying that i am missing with my legacy. al is this messing with my legacy? i could leave this interview, and never swim again, and no one take away -- no one can take away my medals or might times.
i still have a great husband to go home to. to me, there was nothing really to me is except for a little sleep. i feel i have learned so much more. it has been empowering. i have had friends and family step up to the plate to help me and give me encouragement, and i have felt so much in love that i never really thought i would. i have just been pleasantly surprised by how rewarding in has been on many different levels outside of getting into incredible shape and making it here at the age of 40. tavis: it may not mess with your legacy, but would it mess with your head? >> i do not think so. tavis: i do not want to find you in a mental institution one year from now because it did not work out. >> no, i am much more stable than that, and i feel that one of the reasons i wanted to do it is because at the end of my career -- so in the 1988 olympics, i did three germans
and one metals. in the other olympics, i only swam two records, and i won the silver. a few days later, i won the gold medal. so i left those with a gold and a silver, to make it three gold and one silver, but i hated that. by the time the 1996 olympics rolled around, to me, it was a means to an end. i was supposed to do it. i was still competing with the best, but i did not like it. my mental attitude was not as good as it should have been. there were things i would have done differently, and i think in the back of my head, regardless of the success i had in my earlier career, always regretted a little bit how i felt between 1992 and 1996 olympics, so for me to come back and find joy in the sport again, from 1989 until 1996, those seven years, and
never swam my best times, and in swimming, what is important is progress. now, every time i jump in the pool, i do my best time, so i think coming back to this board and appreciating it and going at it with a better attitude and having more wisdom has helped me. it has helped me find a nice balance and a place or swimming in my life, which is a much bigger picture. tavis: two things. first, the comet. you are not competing with the best, you were beating some of the best. even some that were dug up, we can to find out later on, which raises the question about how the doping has changed your support, and does it in paris you are making feel -- >> no, you know, it is funny. i used to sit on the anti- dumping. the athletes should be available one hour a day where we know where they are that we can come
test, and now that i am doing it, this is hard. i am on the computer listing where i am going to be. they know where i am, at the studio, so the anti-dumping agency could show up right here with a doping test. it comes with the territory with what we do to try to keep the sport clean. i think when i was swimming in the late-1980s, it was different and that while we were not as naïve, it was just not as much of a focused, concerted effort to stop the cheaters. we had the soviets and all of the country's senate, now and have admitted to systematic doping. i think doping has become, after having been very involved in it, almost like mainstream. it encompasses every, all sports and every country, and when i swam, i felt it was more
confined to the eastern bloc, unfortunately. i think it is a tough gig. i think the world anti-dumping agency and the others have a large task ahead of them, -- the agency and the others have a hard time. we do as much as we do to stay ahead. that is all we can do. tavis: even champions get tempted to cheat. were you ever tempted? were you ever approached? >> i was never approached. i was certainly never attempted. i would not even know how to start, where to go, and i would never do that. it is not worth it to me, and a lot of the east german women that i swam against and became friends with, they were lovely women, are lovely women, and all they have is swimming, and now we know it was because of chemicals and steroids that they
swam well, but a lot of them are having health issues. their children are having health issues, and they personally have had health issues. swimming is a part of my life, but it is not worth my health by not being able to be with my children for. tavis: a second issue i wanted to raise, you said that for a period of time coming years, in fact, swimming for yourself, how does one spend your entire life, you started swimming at age two, age 5 in the water, how does one spend their entire life dedicated to one sport or activity and it to a point where they are emotionally, they are psychologically of course, turned off? >> well, it always amazed me. i met my husband after i finished swimming, and he never understood it either. it is kind of what you do.
my mother cannot swim, and my dad sort of floats. swimming to me was an internal thing my parents my parents were, like, if you want to go swimming, please do, but we do not want to get up to take you. they were ok with it. my mother to this date cannot swim. i have two older brothers, and the middle one, the second one is actually very, very talented. he is probably more talented than me, but he hated it. for me, it is an internal drive, and it had to do with my parents, and i think because my parents were not athletes, i never learned that it was not allocate to not win. they helped me with my drive, but i never had a mentor that said, "hey, you do not have to win all of the time." for me, it was an inner drive to win, and when i stopped winning
or stopped getting medals, and people were criticizing, and people are always criticizing us anyway, it became very internal. i do not like it, but i have to do it, because i am janet, and i have to wear gold medals. it was a vicious cycle, but i did not know what else to do because it was such a part of my life, and i do not know if that makes sense, but when people tell you to do something, in you are good at it, you do it. tavis: how did you get motivated? who motivated you? i know your coach, but where your parents could take or leave your swimming, because they do not want to get up at 4:00, if they could take or leave you doing this, obviously, they want to their daughter to be successful at whatever she does, but what was the motivation? i ask that because there are parents who push these kids. it is their dream for these
kids, and sometimes, the parents are overbearing. kids get turned off. there is one his dad pushed him. i rant -- read about one boy who started rebelling because parents pushed him. who was a motivating you at that time? >> to me. it is so funny, because my mom would tell you she made my dad take me, and if he had not driven the, i would have walked. now, my daughter loves gymnastics. she is tall, so she is never going to be a gymnast, and she loves it, and i love that she loves it, and i go to that class, and there are parents griping at their five-year-old. i am that mom that is like, you know, i want her to have fun, and i would never pressure, and i have to tell me that it was very rare, and i know a few, but it was very rare for me to meet
an athlete his parents pushed them to be successful, because i think it has to come from the athlete. when you talk about andre agassi, there was still a drive. >> to go through that at some point. >> and i think any athlete might feel that way. in the same way that swimming is an individual sport. you only have yourself to count on an yourself to motivate. if a team is relying on you, i always dreamed of being in a team sport, because you have these people relying on you, how great is that, but when you are getting out there every day, motivation is an issue, and you get a little tired of it, and i have an inner drive, and i still have the inner drive. tavis: i am just curious now. i wonder if you have some thoughts on the michael phelps situation. he is a world champion, and
everyone likes him, and we all make mistakes. and i ask his baggage you navigate your fame and fortune so well, and i know that there are a lot of americans pulling for you this time around, and we want to see you succeed again, but what were your thoughts when phelps got caught, and when you become famous overnight with all of these metals, navigating this, and this, these medals. >> i have a son, and i know that boys will be boys, and i think he just needed to kind of grow up, and i think in this day and age, he has grown up more so than i did in the public eye, and i certainly cannot defend what he was doing, so i think it is what 20-year-old boys may do. i do not condone it. it is what it is, and i think it
was a dumb move for the lack of a better word, but he cannot be diminished from what he accomplished in beijing. tavis: it may not have been dope, but there are some nhl athletes and growing up, and to your point, being human, guys do certain things, and girls do certain things -- >> i went to college, and not saying that going to college keep you on the straight and narrow by any means, but i could either take money and endorsements, or i could get a college scholarship, and my parents always let me choose, but my parents kind of navigated me towards that side of getting an education, it is my parents are not athletes, and they are not swimmers, and they are, like, "who knows how long you can keep swimming?" i think that helped. i ended up transferring. it kept me with a goal in mind.
a lot of the younger swimmers they do not go to college. the" endorsement money, and here they are at 17, 18, 19 years old, driving fancy cars and having a significant amount of money because of their success, and i think that is harder. when you are famous and successful and you have money, and you are young. it is what young kids do. tavis: do you regret that? because everybody takes the money. what were you thinking? >> and people still say that to me. "what were you thinking? " but in the late 1980's, there was not as much money and the olympics and in the swimming movement. in 1988, i was overwhelmed with the fame and the cameras waiting at the airport, and i was just a kid from orange county wanted to go back to my high school boyfriend and go to a homecoming, to me, that made it more fun for me, because it was never my job.
it was just something i love to do. i wanted to enjoy it and swim in college and get a scholarship and leave a legacy for their kids that their mother was a college athlete. it was really important for me. tavis: i was just teasing. >> thank you. thank you. >> it is a rare. these time trials now. telling the numbers, how close are you to the gold that you have to hit -- to the goal that you have to it could >> i will be short, because we have to talk about bali -- ali. -- only issue is to have the time. one just failed, and i am not sure i gave myself enough time. then again, if i had started this one year out, i may have given up, getting up at that
time in the morning. tavis: we will and where you want to end, which is muhammad ali, and i love the chance. a lot of great moments in the pool. where does this right, passing the torch? as >> i would give up every medal. it was amazing. tavis: it was a great moment. could you feel -- i mean, you were there. could you feel what everyone was feeling? the energy was and palpable. >> he came up, and and felt, it's felt like an earthquake. and the best thing was when the ice team let the torch. i knew those guys, and i was so excited for them. and i said to this person, this
is the most amazing torch lighting ever. and she said this? this is nothing compared to when muhammad ali lipitor to. i cannot be on the outside looking in, but i cried for five minutes when it was over. tavis: that is a great story. thanks for sharing. >> thank you very much. tavis: good to have you here. we will be talking months from now. good to see you. that is our show for tonight. see you back here. thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley.
join me next time for a conversation with -- matthew weiner on the return of "madf men." see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more.